DeSantis District Commits $100 Million To Upgrade Disney World

in Walt Disney World

Ron DeSantis smiling in the foreground, with Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland, a statue of Walt Disney holding Mickey Mouse's hand, and visitors enjoying the park visible in the background. The scene is bright and colorful, capturing a cheerful moment.

Credit: Inside the Magic

The battle between Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney World truly appears to be over, and now his chosen political allies in the tax district are committing nearly $100 million to upgrade the iconic Orlando theme park.

Mickey Mouse in a ceremonial outfit stands by Cinderella Castle with an overlaid image of Ron DeSantis speaking at Disney, all set under a sunny sky.
Credit: Inside the Magic

For nearly a year, DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company battled their issues out in both the court of public opinion and the actual court system. Historically, Disney has been a huge part of the economy of Florida, with Disney World bringing in tens of millions of visitors and billions of dollars of tourist revenue every year.

Combined with the company’s quiet but sizable donations to political campaigns and its outsize impact as the largest single-site employer in the state, it has been considered wise for politicians to stay on the Mouse’s good side.

That abruptly changed in the spring of 2023 when former CEO Bob Chapek (who has since been ousted in favor of returning executive Bob Iger) publicly condemned the Parental Rights in Education Act, popularly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. It took months of pressure from LGBTIA+ groups and Disney Cast Members and, even then, was generally considered a lukewarm statement; Ron DeSantis did not feel that way, however.

Ron DeSantis against Disney World castle
Credit: Inside the Magic

Related: Governor DeSantis Announces $1.5 Billion to Fund Massive Disney Project

Governor DeSantis dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District, where the majority of the Walt Disney World Resort is located, in what the company later described as political reprisal and an abuse of executive authority. Reedy Creek was replaced with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), which DeSantis swiftly stocked with a series of allies to control Disney.

A firestorm of lawsuits ensued, most notably Disney v. DeSantis, in which the company accused the governor of violating its First Amendment rights to free speech without fear of retribution from government officials. Eventually, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled against the media company, stating:

“Disney does not possess the legal standing to bring a lawsuit against the Governor or the Secretary. Furthermore, its allegations against the CFTOD Defendants lack merit, as ‘when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose.’”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis superimposed in front of Reedy Creek
Credit: NBC, Asher Heimermann via Wikimedia Commons, edited by ITM

As one might expect, Disney immediately appealed the ruling, which is currently pending in the 11th Circuit. However, to the surprise of many, the DeSantis CFTOD and Disney soon announced that they had come to a legal settlement that would be a “win-win” and resolved the majority of their issues.

While Governor DeSantis has seemed either unwilling or unable to stop himself from taking regular potshots against Disney in the months since, his Central Florida board of supervisors has seemed shockingly willing to aid Walt Disney World.

In the most recent development, the CFTOD board voted to pursue nearly $100 million worth of bridge and road upgrades around Walt Disney World, a massive sum of taxpayer money to improve the resort (per The Orlando Sentinel).

A digital map displaying the geographic locations of walt disney world resort and the I-4 highway.
Credit: Google

Related: Governor Ron DeSantis Signs $40 Million Tax Break for Disney

According to CFTOD meeting notes, District Administrator Stephanie Kopelousos (who recently replaced the ethics violation-prone Glen Gilzean) presented a proposal to pursue $99.3 million worth of bonds for Disney upgrades. It is described as:

The District is requesting approval from the Board for the Finance Department to pursue bond funding of $99,300,000, for transportation projects to be considered:

• World Drive North Phase III

• North Buena Vista Drive Bridge Replacements

• Buena Vista Drive and Western Way Interchange Improvements

• Western Way Widening

• Milling and Resurfacing of portions of Buena Vista Drive and World Drive

The CFTOD board of supervisors voted to pursue the Disney World improvement bonds, with acting chairman Charbel Barakat saying it was “great we are able to take a positive step.” While these are not explicitly described as improvements for Disney World, it is clear that the vast majority of these projects will directly benefit the resort.

Doubtlessly, there will be significantly more steps before the board can fully fund and implement this plan, but it appears that DeSantis and Disney are once more working cooperatively. At least when it comes to spending taxpayer money.

Do you think that Disney World needs bridge and road upgrades? Tell us your Disney travel stories!

Read the full CFTOD meeting notes here:

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